An prisoner in Texas is set to be executed on Wednesday evening for the more than 17-year-old murders of his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her 7-year-old kid. He is claiming breaches of his religious freedom and a lack of concern for his medical requirements as reasons to delay his execution.
At the state prison in Huntsville, Stephen Barbee, 55, will be executed by lethal injection. He was found guilty of murdering Lisa Underwood, 34, and her son Jayden, 2, in February 2005. They both died of suffocation at their Fort Worth home. After some time, their bodies were discovered in Denton County, not far away.
Attorneys for Barbee have petitioned the Supreme Court to halt the execution, citing a violation of their client’s religious freedom since the state prison system has not established a written protocol on the role of spiritual advisors in the execution room, as ordered by the Supreme Court.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in March that states must allow death row convicts’ requests to have religious leaders present for their executions to include praying with them and touching them. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not publicly updated its policy, but has said that it would consider convicts’ petitions on an individual basis and fulfill the vast majority of acceptable requests.
In a preliminary injunction given earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston ruled that Texas could not execute Barbee until the state released a policy on prisoner access to spiritual advisors that adequately safeguards inmates’ right to free exercise of religion. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that Hoyt’s injunction was too broad, and they reversed it.
Hoyt granted a second order on Tuesday, which is intended to safeguard Barbee’s rights in particular. The Texas Attorney General’s Office filed an urgent appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which must rule before the Supreme Court may hear the case.
Because state prison authorities would let Barbee’s spiritual advisor touch him and pray aloud with him before his execution, the Texas Attorney General’s Office argued in a prior court filing that Barbee’s allegations are irrelevant.
On the same day, Hoyt refused a second request from Barbee’s counsel for an execution stay based on arguments that the inmate’s right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment would be violated. Barbee’s attorneys argue that he would endure “intolerable agony and suffering” if put to death the traditional way, with his arms spread on the stretcher so that IV lines may be implanted to perform the fatal injection.
Lawyers for the Texas Attorney General’s Office informed Hoyt in a court filing earlier this month that prison authorities would make adjustments for Barbee and allow his arms to stay twisted, and if necessary, would locate another site to insert the IV lines.
On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously against commuting Barbee’s death sentence or granting him a four-month respite from execution.
The prosecution claims that Barbee murdered Underwood and her kid because he was ashamed his wife would find out she was seven months pregnant, most likely with his child. Later DNA testing disproved Barbee’s paternity claims. Underwood ran a bagel bakery in Fort Worth that she had previously named after her son. After they didn’t show up to a baby shower, her kid and she were reported missing.
After first telling police he murdered Underwood and her kid, Barbee changed his story. Barbee claims his business partner framed him and that he was forced to make a confession.
His trial and punishment in February 2006 lasted a total of less than three days.
On the same day that Murray Hoope r is scheduled to be executed in Arizona for the 1980 murder of two persons during a house robbery in Phoenix, Barbee will also be scheduled to undergo a fatal injection. On Wednesday, at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time, Hooper will be put to death.
Barbee, should he be put to execution, would be the sixth Texas convict to be put to death in 2018. He is the last death row convict set to be executed in the state this year.